Due to the ongoing national economic crisis, Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB and many programs within the Catholic resettlement network are experiencing increased interest about refugees, particularly, in how refugees are faring in the face of economic difficulties. Sentiments reflected by media have ranged from support of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program despite the current economic crisis, to highly critical, with some calling for a slow down, even a complete freeze, of refugee admissions. When thinking about refugees, human beings fleeing persecution, torture and death, there are a few things we must keep in mind beyond economic cost.
1. Resettlement saves lives. Refugee resettlement is a life-saving, humanitarian response to individuals in urgent need of protection who often have nowhere else to turn. Resettlement offers them a chance at a new life. While these are difficult economic times for everyone, refugees do not have the luxury of waiting for the economy to improve. Their situation is urgent and life-threatening. Delayed action may cost lives.
2. The U.S. has a long history of offering humanitarian protection to those most in need and we must not compromise our core values even in difficult times. Reneging on this commitment because of an economic slowdown would be a tragic departure from what makes our nation great. During previous times of economic hardship, the U.S. continued to help refugees begin a new life. If we could do it then, we can do it now. In spite of the ailing economy, it is heartening to see thousands of selfless Americans across the country continue to volunteer and assist those in need.
3. The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program provides a great deal of necessary assistance and services to refugees. However, the program is antiquated, under funded and in need of reform. Designed nearly three decades ago, it has not been updated to accommodate changes to incoming refugee populations, the economic climate, and social supports. The success of the program relies mostly in the VOLAGS (volunteer agencies) whose creative approaches and community partnerships help make up for the gap in federal resources.
4. Refugees are an asset to our communities and country, as they fill important niches in the economy, revitalize communities both culturally and economically, and create jobs by opening businesses.
5. The U.S. has a particular responsibility to assist Iraqi refugees and special immigrants, as many of them are at risk of death and persecution at home due to their ties to the U.S. government.
Although safe and voluntary repatriation is usually the most desirable course of action, resettlement is often the only option for many refugees. They are granted sanctuary in the U.S. because they are in danger, cannot return home safely, and cannot be safely integrated into their countries of asylum overseas.